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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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Monday - August 09, 2010

From: Rotterdam, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Non-Natives, Transplants
Title: Non-native Japanese maple seedling in Rotterdam NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

In the first couple days of August, I discovered a baby Japanese Maple growing against the wall of my storage shed, a short distance from a neighbor's full grown Japanese Maple. I transplanted this 5 in tall seedling, which has about a half dozen leaves, near the rear corner of my backyard. The soil is extremely sandy there, but I filled a hole about the size of a paint can with Miracle-Gro potting mix. I give the seedling just under a gallon of water (which quickly vanishes in the sandy soil) every two days. As the days grow shorter, it occurs to me this seedling may have a tough time this winter. Here in the Albany, NY area, late January's normal high and low temps are around 30 and 10 degrees, but some sub-zero days are normal. This area typically gets a seasonal total of around 60" of snow and there can be upwards of 15"-18" of snow cover for several weeks. This baby maple has a trunk small enough to fit in a swizzle stick. I was thinking maybe a 6" diameter by 2 feet tall clear plastic cylinder with dime-sized holes here-and-there to allow limited air circulation. Perhaps banked with 3-4 inches of mulch around the base? Would that be too hot in direct sun? Is there anything I can do to give this tree a fighting chance of making it through this winter?

ANSWER:

The first thing we need to tell you is that Acer palmatum, Japanese maple, is native to eastern Japan and South Korea. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. This USDA Plant Profile for Japanese Maple does not show it growing as far north as Schenectady County in east central New York State.  The best we can tell, your area's USDA Zone Hardiness ranges from 4a to 5b, which means you can have average annual minimum temperatures of from -30 to -10 deg. F.  Most information we have seen on Japanese maples say they are hardy from Zones 6 to 8. It's too hot for them in Texas and too cold for them in Schenectady County, NY.

This article from Floridata has more information, and we have extracted some comments from that article:

"Most Japanese maple cultivars are grafted on to special root stocks. They also can be propagated by rooting softwood cuttings in spring and summer. Japanese maple will grow from seeds, but you take your chances."

Seeds rarely grow true to the hybridized version of the plant, and you could go to a lot of trouble to get a mediocre tree, or it might freeze to death its first winter.


 

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